Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I am so excited to have the Jolls brothers, Michael and Daniel as my guests. I love the story of how they got the idea for their book. It’s also fun to find movie buffs who love what I love about movies. Looking over Michael’s other books, I feel a kinship to him. I have a brother who graduated from University of Southern California with a degree in cinematography – movies are what our family does, what our family loves, where we center a lot of conversations and arguments. I love talking to people passionate about movies.
Enjoy this interview as much as I did. Read on to see how you can enter to win an autographed copy of Michael and Daniel’s book!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Michael Jolls is a film producer with over a hundred various productions, both large and small. He is the author of the books The Films of Steven Spielberg and Make Hollywood Great Again.
Daniel Jolls holds a B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He served as the student president of the St. John Paul II Newman Center at UIC from 2017 to 2018, and in the fall of 2017 wrote and presented a senior honors thesis entitled, “Mental Health in Cinema: A Spectatorship and Allegiance Approach.” He later presented a modified version of this thesis at the UNIV Congress in Rome, Italy in the spring of 2018.
Tell us about your current release. Rev. William Netstraeter: A Life in Three Parts is the biography of a German immigrant to the United States in the 1860s who was made pastor of a small Catholic parish in rural Chicagoland. In his fifty-year tenure, Father Netstraeter oversaw the real-estate development for Chicago’s northside, influenced the educational system and local politics. Twenty years after his death, his life savings would become a source of controversy between Cardinal George Mundelein and Adolf Hitler.
If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? (Michael) Sure! I guess if you were asking, ‘If I knew only one single person would ever read the book,’ that would be a little discouraging. But in this case, the very existence of the book, Rev. William Netstraeter itself, served a higher purpose of giving dignity to Fr. Netstraeter’s parish, St. Joseph’s Wilmette. About three months before formally starting the book, the Archdiocese of Chicago and Cardinal Cupich had targeted the parish for dissolvement. Should St. Joseph’s Wilmette be snuffed out as a parish, all the records which include the majority of the documentation on Fr. Netstraeter would have disappeared.
St. Joseph Wilmette’s buildings and cemetery are historical, therefore any acknowledgment to this historical importance of the land was a rebuttal to the Archdiocese’s shady attempt to sell it off. In 2015, long before this biography was considered for a book, the Archdiocese demanded the church, i.e. the congregants, to raise upwards of $1.5 million dollars to refurbish the buildings. Then, in the summer of 2019, out of left field, they announced that the school was closing in the middle of summer! They intended to shut down those buildings and simply informed the parents that the property was getting tossed on the real-estate market!!! Well, it’s much harder to do that when there’s historical significance tied to the place. The book was one of a few “monkey wrenches” tossed into the machinery to cease that process.
Now, along the way, if Fr. Netstraeter’s life work and story help strengthen someone’s spiritual devotion, that’s an added bonus. Even if you didn’t know the current nonsensical politics that ushered forth the book, the story itself is meant to inspire.
(Dan): Absolutely! For me, the book has just as much a spiritual component as a historical one. We are called to bring each other closer to God, using our gifts and talents to do so – so even if only one person happened to read our book and benefit from it spiritually, that’s still a “win” for them and for God. The same goes for people who write detailed memoirs or self-help books. If just one person benefits from them, they should be proud. It’s very humbling to think that people could be inspired by what my brother and I wrote.
What is your personal, most effective way to get past writer’s block? (Michael): I don’t really get “writer’s block,” but I have had moments where I get fixated on two or three sentences, and after fighting with it for fifteen minutes, I realize I’m just wasting my time. In most cases when that’s happened, it’s already the evening, so I stop and take a little break, get a light buzz going, and then the pen just magically turns on and the sentences flow perfectly. That’s the same approach with film editing: when something doesn’t work, all it takes is 3 seconds to make a digital copy of the original clips, and then just start trimming and cutting footage. The same is true with writing; stop overthinking and just start trying.
(Dan): While I do have a little humorous nameplate in my office that says “Write Drunk, Edit Sober,” I’ve yet to try alcohol as a means of getting past writer’s block. For me, I tend to do A LOT of pacing and music-listening to clear my mind and “get back in the groove,” so to speak. And as much as I hate to admit this, I also tend to get past procrastination/writer’s block by waiting until the last minute, so then I’m forced to finish the task whether I like it or not. Then, once I receive feedback from whoever, at least I can edit a finished work and not have to continue writing from scratch.
What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write? (Michael): There’s a duo answer to that question: first is “comfort zone” and second is “opportunity.” Going back to my high school years, I preferred essay and short-answer questions to multiple-choice questions. In college, I had an excess of papers to write and turn in, and if you do something enough times with rapid repetition, you get better at it. Then, with filmmaking as a profession, I was more comfortable with writing stuff. I don’t know how to properly format a screenplay, but when needed I could easily pop out a “script” of some sort — which is ironic because on my productions we rarely use a screenplay.
Anyway, when the opportunity presented itself to write and make money at it, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard. At the same time, in my professional line of work, being employed by countless Catholic churches, there’s a lot of writing involved, be it a letter to parents, notices for events, etc. Writing was always something that just came my way and I could manage.
(Dan): I always wanted to write because I find my thoughts are clearer through my writing than through my speech. In school, I could always articulate my thoughts better on paper than I could in class discussion. Writing is also therapeutic and allows more ideas to flourish, for me at least. Whether I’m writing analytically or personally, I often find that I’m at peace when I finish, because I had to get those thoughts out of my head and onto some paper. You could ask any of my closest friends — I write long personal letters. Subconsciously it helps me work out my own thoughts as I talk to my audience. It’s a very helpful exercise that ends up benefitting my work and the people who read it.
Do you have pre-determined length in mind when you first begin a book? (Michael): So far yes, but if you were to ask me that question again in five years I might say no. When I first started Rev. William Netstraeter I thought it would be a little shorter than it turned out, but it wasn’t long after we got started that I got a sense of the size and scope of the book.
(Dan): No. Though I have to be aware of my limits as I write, I don’t want to start out with a specific number of pages or chapters because I’m worried that would prevent me from saying everything I want (or need) to say.
What is your preferred method of writing? (computer, pen & paper, etc.) (Michael): Most of the time it’s pen & paper, but there’s always been exceptions. Generally, when I’m in the early assembly of a book, it’s almost exclusively pen & paper.
(Dan): Start with pen & paper but gradually move to the computer. I very rarely write full paragraphs on paper, but I have a journal that I will jot down any and all thoughts into during the day, during prayer, etc. As cliche as that sounds, it works. And I revisit those thoughts later and assemble them accordingly when I write on a computer.
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? (Book series, maybe?) (Michael): I didn’t read as a child. I was just disinterested until fourth grade when we were forced to read 20 minutes each night for homework. Through September and October I slugged through it, but eventually the books themselves became mildly “cool.” We all started getting interested in what each other was reading. In fact, there was a small group of about three or four kids that would start picking up thick airport novels just to one-up each other, you know? That’s funny to think about in hindsight. A true story: in the spring of fourth grade there were three kids in the class reading To Kill A Mockingbird on their own. Why? Just because. I remember my Mom in particular thinking that was the weirdest thing she ever heard, and even inquired to the teacher who was just as miffed at it. Sixteen or seventeen years later I decided to actually read the book one summer and I realized how INSANE it was that my classmates, at the age of ten, were reading this book and acting like they understood it.
Anyway, so fourth grade was where reading became appealing, that spring a new Star Wars movie was coming out and the Star Wars books started appearing at Borders – for anyone that remembers those stores. I think I can safely say that reading for the remainder of grade school was an unhealthy level of Star Wars books and novels. When seventh and eighth grade rolled around, J.R.R. Tolkien was in, and by high school I switched primarily to non-fiction books.
(Dan): Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve revisited books from childhood. I identify more with the books I read in high school, but long before that, I loved fantasy novels. The Chronicles of Narnia will forever be my favorite, but I also remember reading a collection of short novels entitled Tales From Dimwood Forest by Avi (pen name) in 3rd grade that really captivated me. The books were simple enough on the outside – anthropomorphic animals (mostly mice) living in a forest much like every Disney movie ever made, but what drew me to those books was how “adult” certain things seemed to me as a child. A major character dies quite tragically in one of the books, there are couples and characters who are constantly working out their familial issues or romantic relationships, and the adventures never seemed too far-fetched to be ridiculous or too “childlike.” I loved those books as a kid.
Also, I never read Harry Potter until I was much older, but I read a series that was basically a knock-off called Children of the Red King by Jenny Nimmo. Think of it as a cross between Harry Potter and X-Men, but it doesn’t take as many risks in terms of character deaths or adult subject matters. Nevertheless, they were engaging enough for me by the time I entered middle school and branched into reading other types of fiction.
Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you started this story? All too well. This book began in 2009 when I first learned the story of Fr. Netstraeter, who was practically an after-thought and nearly forgotten about. Jump ahead to February 2012 when I was hired to do a video production for St. Joseph’s Wilmette and I essentially pitched a documentary about Fr. Netstraeter. In the aftermath of the production, we did a commemorative picture book that was auctioned off at some fundraiser and… you know, that was that. Onwards to the next adventure.
Six years go by and then three events happen almost simultaneously that resulted in the necessity of this book:
The first, as I mentioned, was the Archdiocese announcement of dissolving St. Joseph’s Wilmette. The way they were going to do this was by merging it with a nearby parish, St. Francis Xavier. Now, here’s the honest truth: those two parishes hate each other. I’m not supposed to say that, but… the lies need to stop. These are two groups that have bickered for decades about everything. This is not a playful rivalry, but rather actual high society nonsensical drama of families scoffing at each other about who has the bigger bank account, houses, cars, etc. And just to boot, St. Joseph’s is conservative and St. Francis Xavier’s is liberal, but the geniuses at the Archdiocese who are merging parishes all over the Chicagoland area rarely consider grouping conservatives with conservatives and liberals with liberals. Naw, go ahead and stick two clashing theologies together because, you know, “harmony.” “Unity.” To my knowledge, since they did this, the infighting between the two “merged” parishes has only increased.
The second reason, which I made reference to previously, was how two weeks into summer vacation, the Archdiocese announces that St. Joseph’s School — a popular Blue Ribbon recipient with high enrollment — was going to close! It essentially confirmed everyone’s suspicions that Cardinal Cupich was targeting churches based on real-estate value and parishes that were “traditional.” St. Joseph’s Wilmette has a reputation of being a tad more orthodox than most, and that was something very much reflected in Fr. Netstraeter’s life. To be fair, St. Joseph’s Wilmette wasn’t the only parish that Cardinal Cupich has crippled for this reason. Everyone knows that a parish who leans more towards traditional Catholicism will be subject to scrutiny from the Archdiocese. I have done part-time jobs for three separate parishes in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. The one that was the most “orthodox” and “traditional” got shut down. After that happened, the larger one that was pretty ecclesiastical, started drastically acting more progressive to play face with the Archdiocese.
The third and final event that really propelled the book into existence was when I got an email from Nancy Canafax, a former mayor of Wilmette, informing me that Fr. Netstraeter’s image was going to be embedded on a bronze plaque that was to be hung at New Trier High School (a school Fr. Netstraeter helped found in 1902). Because of this, I knew that Fr. Netstraeter’s story was going to become relevant again, and so just out of curiosity I started looking at the history I collected from six years ago. Well, in six years time, a simple online search yielded more information about Fr. Netstraeter than what was known at the time of the documentary production. That’s when the idea of taking that commemorative coffee-table book we made, and turning it into something more comprehensive came around.
(Dan): The timing couldn’t have been better for me. I graduated from UIC in 2018 and until the fall of 2019, my main job was in the produce department at a local grocery store which I had been working at since I started college. I had been applying to jobs and doing some writing projects on the side, but nothing major. I began 2019 by attending SEEK, an annual Catholic conference sponsored by FOCUS (Fellowship Of Catholic University Students). It’s well-known for booking Catholic celebrities to give talks: Dr. Scott Hahn, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Miriam James Heidland, and Lila Rose to name a few. This conference took place in early January, and at the time the church was in divisive turmoil yet again because of two things: the ongoing sex abuse crisis, and the fact that dioceses across the nation were suffering financially, much like the Archdiocese of Chicago. Granted, this didn’t strike me right away, rather, it sat in the back of my mind and was something to be aware of as I continued to live out my faith one day at a time. I knew on the last night of the conference though that I wanted to continue writing – especially at a time where nothing was stopping me yet it was so easy to be discouraged.
Fast forward to March, and my brother comes to me with an idea for this book on St. Joseph’s in Wilmette – more specifically, a book about their prominent pastor. The reasoning behind it was a no-brainer. History was being erased. The legacy of Fr. Netstraeter was going to disappear.
From what I recall, I initially started as an editor, and considering I still had access to online databases from school, I would be doing some research as well. It wasn’t until a bit later that we made the decision that I would also co-write. I didn’t have the same depth of knowledge that Michael had with the material, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn and develop a deeper appreciation for it. For me it was seeing the painful allegories between Nazi Germany and the German immigrants in northern Illinois: while the homeland burned under tyrannical rule, the “new land” was thriving. Religion as a belief or “interest” was being snuffed out in Nazi Germany, while in Chicago religious freedom was given its chance to flourish. This angle was what hooked me. And while we had plenty of support from family and friends, it was the support from the local Wilmette community that made this project worthwhile. People were excited at the prospect of knowing that the story of their home parish would be remembered in a concrete way.
Here is where you can find Daniel and Michael online:
Daniel and Michael are giving away a signed copy of their book, Rev. William Netstraeter: A Life in Three Parts to a reader! See below how you can enter to win:a Rafflecopter giveaway